In the increasingly antagonistic jockeying and jousting between the Baylor University Board of Regents and the donor-led, alumni-infused Bears for Leadership Reform, a disturbing new reality is looming: The more that regents dismiss proposals, overtures and even the legitimacy of the BLR, the more that regents reinforce growing perceptions about their own insularity and irrelevance in the battle over how Baylor restores confidence in its leadership. This is damning, coming amid legal challenges involving sexual assault and administrative indifference regarding student victims.
During a news media teleconference Wednesday, Houston attorney John Eddie Williams, for whom the football field at McLane Stadium is named, and former BU regent Randy Ferguson outlined a plan of regency reform including term limits and changes allowing Baylor alumni to elect up to 10 regents rather than three — steps that would make regents more accountable. Notably, the BLR resisted a perennial question from the press: Which regents are by now so conflicted and so failed that they must depart the scene to pave the way for any restoration of alumni confidence?
By week’s end, after Baylor regents released their own proposal of board reforms to the Trib, Williams had stepped up his criticism, inching closer to naming certain regents as contributing to not only Baylor’s current scandal through questionable actions but threatening the transparency so desperately needed in Baylor’s future.
A BU regents-charged committee agrees with the BLR on giving voting rights to non-voting regents representing faculty (and increasing their representation to two members), the Bear Foundation and Baylor “B” Association but keeping the status of non-voting student regents as is. It and the BLR are further apart regarding transparency. Bears for Leadership Reform acknowledges very few privately run colleges and universities open up their board meetings to the public or press but suggests that — particularly after a searing scandal continuing to tarnish Baylor’s image and integrity — bold and revolutionary steps are required, including opening up board meetings to the level of public universities. The regents’ committee says posting more information to BU websites will suffice.
BU regents, who have yet to approve this committee’s list of proposals (the committee included non-regents), also split with the BLR on the latter’s proposal that regents be freed from any sort of restriction requiring their silence on issues or deference to board leadership in public commentary. Regents, the BU proposal says, are free only to explain “announced decisions” of the board and listen to others’ thoughts and report them to the board.
One marvels at the risks of Baylor regents dismissing, defying and possibly even driving off prominent donors such as Drayton McLane, for whom the university’s $266 million, state-of-the-art, riverfront football stadium of 2014 is named. And yet Bears for Leadership Reform must carefully consider its next move if regents continue to call the BLR’s bluff. Yes, regents may take Baylor down with them, but if generous donors no longer matter in their worldview, then there may well be little that Bears for Leadership Reform can do.
One must also wonder why regents are so bent on shutting out from regular board meetings members of the Baylor family and local press. Citing certain fiduciary and legal matters won’t wash because even public universities are permitted closed sessions to discuss some matters before returning into open session to disclose any decisions approved. What are the regents doing in their meetings involving Baylor University that requires such intense, gavel-to-gavel secrecy?